I am not claiming to be an expert by any means. Please follow up with the links provided to become more bear aware this season. Do not rely on my tips. This is just what has worked for me.
I am a nature lover and have been my whole life. I grew up outside, in the country, and I camped regularly. Being animal aware was instilled at me at a very young age. Cougars, coyotes, moose, and deer were often around my house. All I did was play in the woods.
I have been hiking as an adult ever since I move to Calgary when I was 18. I have come across more than 25 bears on the trail. Most of these have been solo but with a dog or two. Every bear has just sniffed us and left the area. You can hike your whole life and never see a wild animal.
Bears are starting to wake up. March is typically when mother’s will start heading out to regain some nutrients. Males can sleep until June, I have heard. Right now bears are hungry and soon mothers will be out with the cubs. Defensive attacks are common this time a year if there is a bad encounter. Bears will feed on grasses, old berries, and old flowers. It is wise to learn what bear scat looks like throughout the season as their diet changes. It is good to note that I consider a mother moose with her calf to be more dangerous than a lone bear.
Never expect a rescue to save you. They will not make it in time. You must look after yourself. First Aid courses are a smart idea.
My simple guidelines when in the backcountry are:
1. Carry Bear Spray – I have never had to use it but I do know how to use it. They are about $40CAD. Learn how far your canister sprays. Keep in mind the wind. Don’t spray yourself. And most importantly, if a bear is charging you and you spray it, get out of the way! The bear’s nose is so sensitive, he will be effectively blind for a short time.
2. Carry a Bear Banger Kit – These kits start at around $30. You get a pen launcher, flares, and some explosive charges. Once you purchase, fire a banger off. Drill it in you to shoot one. My father’s first attempt took him over 5min to launch. He is glad he practiced. I have used these many times, on bears and just in bad situations. During my Fryatt Traverse, I fired 4 bangers at bears. One in the middle of the night when he was trying to get my food. They are very effective when the bear is 20m away or more but definitely not closer. They do not replace bear spray and they are fired in the air above you and the bear to scare it off. When I enter a big berry field at dusk, I will shoot one off to clear the area.
3. Make yourself known – Do not expect that animals will know that you are there. Be loud, and shout around all blind corners. Animals want nothing to do with you. Bear bells are too much of a soft rhythmic jingling to be effective. They cannot be heard very far off the trail and tests show that most male voices traveled further. The noise of trekking poles on rocks is supposed to be a better deterrent.
4. Travel during midday – Most of activity you will see from animals will be at dawn or dusk. Take a drive down HWY 40 often, before sunrise, and you will see a bear soon enough. If you go get water or head to the bathroom at night, take a friend with you and do not travel fast. Water is a great place to see wildlife and it also can be noisy, drowning out your approach. 3m max between hikers is the typically suggestion.
5. Be scent conscious – Food is never to be near your sleeping area. Hang your food in a tree, use a locker, or use a bear canister. If you cook real food, or if you spill on yourself, your clothes must be kept with the food. Carry cooking clothes and keep them separate. Also, do not wear any scented products.
6. Do not run – I am not going to tell you what to do when encountering an animal. You can check the Parks Canada Website for some tips. I do know that you do not want to give any predator chase. Attacks over the years in Alberta support this. I just stop and talk calmly. Staying relaxed it key for me. Freak out later.
7. Keep your dogs on a leash – Not only is it a $115 fine in Kananaskis right now, you could be fined a large sum and get a ban if your pet harasses wildlife by chasing it. I have encountered several porcupine, especially at Three Ilse Lake, and you don’t want Scruffy to get a face full of quills 10km from your car. Your dog may be well behaved but you may not know how it will react to a startled bear.
I have encountered many cougars in 2017 already. They have pushed my hammock around with me inside. One even tore my hammock tarp a bit when pushing on it. Cougars are a tricky thing and I suggest you look online at how to deal with them. Native Americans wore masks on the back of their heads with big eyes to prevent being taken from behind. Cougars do not like being seen.
It is not hard to stay safe in the backcountry. Being prepared and knowledgeable is key.
Please do research before picking a hiking spot and be prepared. Bear closures are always posted online.
Stay Safe, Be Prepared,